Summer Swan Song & Back to School Angst

Well, that went fast! Here we are, just three days of summer camp left and back to school in a week’s time. It’s a time to pause and marvel at summer’s imprint on my kids – before I, true to form, start stressing about the imminent change to our schedules, logistics and my inevitable working Mom guilt.

Summer has a habit of showering my kids with one heck of a growth spurt: both mentally and physically. Mentally, they become more self-assured, strutting off to camp every day, confident in their character, willing to learn, practice and hone new skills, navigate complex social situations, make new friends – both peers and counselors.

Summer mostly leaves her mark on their bodies. Long days of constant motion and outdoor action convert their little bodies into long, lean, muscular, bronzed creatures. They grew at least two feet taller each summer – I’m not kidding. The sun bleaches the soft down on their foreheads and rains golden streaks into their hair. Their bums are shocking white in contrast with the rest of the lanky, ripped bodies! Summer renders them ever more beautiful.

Best of all, they return home from camp each night filthy, hungry and tired. They eat their body weight in dinner, chug several pints of milk, shower off the day’s dust, grime, sun screen and bug spray, and fall, clean and exhausted, into their beds and into deep, sweet dreams.

This evening, we talked about what they’d miss most about camp. Their friends and swimming every day were their answers. Then we talked about what they were looking forward about going back to school. Their friends and learning new things, they responded.

It amazes me how seamlessly and confidently they slide from one season to the next, without angst, without regret, with anticipation.

And so we go back to school. However, for me as a working Mom, the transition isn’t quite as carefree as the kids.

Back to school, for me, brings a change of schedule with school starting an hour later, meaning I get to the office later, compressing my already busy work day. It brings regret that I don’t have the time in my schedule to walk my kids to school. It foists guilt that I can’t be as present in the classroom as maybe I could or should be. lt slams me with frustration that I’m not able to pick them up before 6pm every day, meaning our evenings together are all-too-short.

Surely, they deserve more of me?

This is a state-of-mind and heart that I face at this time of year every year. I struggle with it. And then accept it, for my choice to work is my choice. And, luckily for me, my kids weather this time of year  better than I do – so I guess I must be doing something right.

This Working Mom Has Had It All – For Eight Years

I am one lucky gal.

For the last eight years, I have been able to work either a four or three-day week while raising my kids. Next week my youngest starts kindergarten and, as per the plan my husband and I decided way back when we started our family, now is the time for me to return to full-time work.

Getting pregnant was not your usual “wham bam thank you Ma’am” affair for my us. It was stressful and scientific, that’s all I have to say. So when that line appeared on the pregnancy test, it was monumental. And I knew that, to protect and sustain this growing ball of cells in my womb, I had to make a serious change to my working life: I had to mitigate my appetite for my career and mute the pace at which I was working. I also knew that being a stay at home Mom wasn’t on the cards for me: both financially and intellectually, I needed to work.

“Having it all” for the last eight years was only possible through the trust and openness of some wonderful people, to whom I am eternally grateful.

Jim Barbagallo was my boss at the time I first became pregnant, eight years ago. Not only did he understand my desire to transition to a four-day week but he was also open to my longer-than-planned maternity leave. And then, when I was ready to return to work, he fought hard to get me my position and schedule back. When I became pregnant with my second child, my desire to cut back my time further coincided with the incredible serendipity of meeting William Agush. William, to me, was and is unique in realizing the winning combination of trusting experienced employees with workplace flexibility. Thanks to William, I enjoyed the working Mom’s hat trick: a three-day work week that was challenging and enjoyable, one whole day to myself every week, and time to be with my young kids. Fast forward to 2010, when I had the good fortunate to be introduced to Meg O’Leary and Beth Monaghan, principals at InkHouse. I was making my next career move but adamant about maintaining my four-day schedule. Beth and Meg, both working mothers themselves, had built this incredible, successful and vibrant PR agency with remarkable skill and talent but also with the humanity to understand that life happens, especially when you are a parent. We took a chance on each other that has paid off in spades.

It wouldn’t be fair to say that balancing being a mother and working a part-time schedule in a demanding, fast-paced industry was always sunshine and flowers. There were definitely compromises made, the never-ending juggling of competing schedules and priorities, stress and surprises. Financially, the cost of preschools, after-school care, and camps was shocking, if not crippling. Yes, there were times that I felt like I was outsourcing my kids in order to get my job done. And I’m sure that my kids thought (and still do think) that I spend as much time with my iPhone as I do with them. And none of this will change when I’m working full-time, I know. But my kids know they are loved. They know that, when they really need me, I am there. Thanks to daycare and preschool, they are sociable, optimistic and creative creatures. They also understand that work = money = toys. Which for them is really all that matters!

There were two other crucial components that made these last eight years possible.

The first is my husband. We went into parenthood – naive like most – but with an understanding that it was a joint mission and that both our careers and workaholic tendencies would have to modify. Fortunately, he works from home and sets his own schedule. For the first two years of each of our kid’s lives, he was able to be a stay at home Dad – on Mondays – giving him the unique appreciation of all that goes into caring for and entertaining a baby/toddler in the course of a day. He admits to it being both terrifying and incredibly special! The combination of my husband’s flexible work schedule, his uncontested commitment to his career and his success, his unfaltering support of my career choices – and quite frankly the wonderful man that he is – has made this journey feasible, practical and enjoyable.

The second element is my work ethic combined with my passion for my industry. To put it succinctly, I work hard and I am experienced at what I do. Getting to this point required determination, self-awareness, conviction, give and take, and plenty of hard graft. To working Moms or Moms-to-be who are weighing their priorities and maybe considering a shorter work-week, I offer this advice (while understanding that everyone’s situations and choices are distinct:)

  • Work your butt off in your 20s and 30s so that no-one can ever question your productivity, skills, desire and results when the time comes that you wish to change your work schedule.
  • Pay it forward: go the extra mile for team mates, put in the extra hours, be proactive, go for the win. I call it credit in the bank that you can tap into when you need to take that extra hour to participate in your kid’s classroom activity or take him to a dentist appointment.
  • Never make anyone feel short-changed by your work schedule.
  • Be accessible, even when you are not technically working. But at the same time, establish boundaries so that, when you are with your family, you can focus on them.
  • Be prepared for compromise. Something has to give.
  • Ask for help when you need it.
  • When you are working, work!

With both my kids now in elementary school, it is time for me to work a full week once again. I realize this will bring a new set of challenges and that I’m going to have to figure out how to carve out some me-time in this new world order. But I’m excited. With this extra day, I feel like I will be able to contribute more, achieve more, focus more on the parts of my work that I really love.

Hello Fridays, are you ready for me?

10 Tips For Surviving Your Staycation & Having Fun

(This post originally ran on Framingham Patch.)

Ooof. Last week was a long week! The kids and I were staycationing and we had a full schedule that included swimming, bowling, butterfly visiting, mini-golfing, Jedi training, ice cream scarfing, hanging out and much more.

Friends and followers have remarked that I must have been competing for an Olympic gold medal in parenting and staycations. While I admit that earning the title of “Most Funnest Mom” was secretly my goal, the reality is that I wanted to fill my kids’ week with awesome summertime memories.

This staycation was primarily a cost containment exercise (i.e. no camp for two weeks) but it has also been a bonding experience as well as reconfirming that I am in no way cut out to be a SAHM!

If you too are staycationing, here’s some advice from me to you on how to make it enjoyable for the kids – and sane for you:

  1. Plan ahead: I do this by maintaining a list of all the interesting places and activities in and around our neighborhood. I’ve been doing this ever since my kids were toddlers so that I wouldn’t have to spend time thinking about what to do or where to go. As I embarked upon this staycation week, I was armed with a master list of options for destinations and activities.
  2. Use local resources to find timely events: I subscribe to these two site’s email newsletters and follow them on Facebook and Twitter - Boston CentralMommyPoppins Boston. And I also check my local Patch’s 5 Things You Need to Know each day. This way, I can learn about fun activities taking place on any given day. For example, we discovered a really fun Jedi training session that was running last Tuesday at a nearby public library. It was hoot!
  3. Don’t go it alone: Pair up with another family, if you can. By jamming into one car, you’ll save on gas and the kids can entertain each other, rather than pester each other and annoy you with endless “are we there yet?’ questions. Plus you’ll have a grown-up to converse with.
  4. Set a budget: It makes sense to figure out what your total budget for the week’s outings and activities should be ahead of time. Or set a daily limit. Or simply check out admission costs before you leave the house so you don’t get any nasty surprises. A couple of the places on my list were prohibitively expensive or charged entrance for adults. If you’re in and around Boston, check out the great free options made possible by Highland Street’s Free Fun Fridays in the summer.
  5. Check the weather before you head out: Nothing worse that getting rained on when you don’t expect it! Make sure there are some indoor activities on your list, just in case. We had to change plans twice last week due to storms!
  6. Say yes: As a Mom, I say no to my kids A LOT. This week, I’ve been trying my hardest to delight them by saying yes as much as possible, within reason. (Enjoy it while it lasts, kids.)
  7. Ice cream: On a daily basis. It’s summer, it’s vacation so why not? Yes, we built ice cream into every day! Also works as a great motivation for good behavior.
  8. Mix up the routine: I am a big believer in routine but staycation is the perfect time to throw routine out the window. Past bedtime? No worries. breakfast for dinner? Yes please. Watch a movie while eating dinner? Sure. Wear PJs until lunchtime? Yup!
  9. Be silly: This applies to adults and kids. How was I silly this week? Why, I had a light saber battle with a Jedi master, of course.
  10. Reward yourself: It’s hard work and patience-testing planning for, entertaining, driving and catering to your kids non-stop during a staycation. So go ahead, pour yourself a large glass of wine at the end of the day. Plan some much-deserved alone time once staycation is over. Meet a friend for lunch. Grab a mani/pedi

How did I reward myself? I went back to work and it was awesome!

The Shocking Cost of Being a Working Parent

(This post first appeared on the Framingham Patch.)

There’s a lot about parenthood that I was not at all prepared for (see my earlier post 25 Unexpected Realities of Parenthood.) One of these things was just how crazy expensive it is caring for these little people.

I’m not talking diapers, food (gosh, I have to feed them over and over and over) and clothes (they just keep on growing) but the shocking cost of daycare, after school care and camps.

I’m fully aware that I could have chosen to be a stay-at-home mom. There are days when staying home with my kids sounds like nirvana. But I am a working mom, a career woman; its part of who I am. I found my niche, I’m good at what I do and I’m passionate about it. And, lucky for me and my family, it pays well too.

But like many other working parents, I’m forever assessing whether the delta between what my husband and I bring home, and what’s left in our bank accounts after paying for preschool, full day kindergarten, afterschool program, early release cover and camps, is really worth it.

This summer is the first that we’ve put both kids into camp (previously my daughter’s preschool continued through the summer months.) First off, selecting from the variety of programs offered was incredibly overwhelming. But then, oh my, the costs! And to think, we have to fill nine weeks of school vacation. Plus extended day. Plus busing. The whole process gives me severe heartburn. Surely all that diligent financial planning before and ever since the kids came out of the womb would have readied us for this? But no.

I think back to the summers of my own childhood and wonder about the fiscal choices my parents made. My mother did not work so we kids were home. I remember going away to the occasional two-week camp – probably a welcome very break for my Mom. Maybe she was going stir crazy the whole time we were home but there was never the need to pack us off for the full nine weeks so that she could pursue a career.

There are days that I wonder whether working parents are being ripped off. Is someone making a profit out of working parents like me who pay other people or institutions to take care of our kids so we can put in an eight-hour day at the office? Is this some kind of penalty we must accept for the fact that we have chosen the professional route? Academically, I understand why child care costs so much. But surely there has to be a more cost-effective way to do this?

For me, working is a choice I make. There are many for whom it is a necessity. I cannot imagine the financial strain they must face finding the balance between making enough money to pay the bills, put food on the table, clothe and equip their families and finding affordable childcare so they can do their jobs.

Maybe it’s our culture that needs fixing?

Turning Crappiness into Happiness

Some days it’s tough to keep the glass half full.

Take this morning, for example. I wake up with a stinking headache and stuffy nose. Then, in the space of roughly 90 minutes, during which there are four people to corral, dress, feed, wipe, organize, please, pack lunch for, find shoes/mittens/hats, brush teeth, repeat commands over and over …etc, etc, my husband and I somehow try to squeeze in meaningful discussions about important stuff like money, kids summer camp, kindergarten registration and our plans for a spring all-inclusive family vacation somewhere in the sun.

Big mistake. Frustration. Disappointment. Tears.

Not the best way to start the day.

In the car en route to work, I start the process of giving myself a good talking to. Accept the complexity and the challenges. Deal with disappointment. Find alternatives that could work, even if they are not ideals (set aside dreams of lazing under the Caribbean sun, pool-side, sipping cocktails while kids are being entertained….) Let it go. Resolve to find better times to have these important discussions. Deep breath. Put on my smile and get on with the day, grateful for my loving family, employment, income and good health.

There now, that’s better.

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